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Commissioner wants focus on tech jobs

Dan Walker

Should there be a division dedicated to attracting high-tech industry to Wilson County? At least one county commissioner thinks its just what’s needed.

Dan Walker, District 10 commissioner, laid out a proposal at the Joint Economic and Community Development Board meeting Thursday to develop technology zones that might bring in higher wage, tech-based employment.

He sees opportunity from current infrastructure development on TN 109 and Interstate 840 to really market the area, and feels like a group tasked with that mission would help jump start recruitment.

During Walker’s address, he said he would want the project to receive the board’s consent and to operate under its advisory to directly target technological enterprises for relocation.

Walker’s position was pretty straightforward. He said the county would be better served with more jobs in the technology sector, so however it attracts those jobs would be to its benefit.

Leaving matters of boots to the boot maker, he suggested compiling a team of tech-industry experts to solicit companies that fit its ideal prospects.

Accompanying Walker to the meeting, was Corey Johns. He serves as project manager for digital content with the Tennessee Entertainment Commission, a division of Tennessee’s Department of Economic & Community Development.

In this role, he markets Tennessee as a competitive location for business investment by technology & talent firms engaged in the production of digital content, aiming to build a sustainable workforce around relevant creative digital media occupations.

“We’ve all got an experimental doctorate the last 18 months,” Johns said of isolating lifestyles becoming the new normal due to COVID. However, he also said he’s seeing somewhat of a revival, but not necessarily to traditional forms of work-life balance.

Johns mentioned how a lot of companies are recruiting individuals to work in the same regional area, even if that doesn’t mean clocking into the same office every day. This phenomenon is called ‘clustering’ and Johns feels like Wilson County is poised to present itself as a clustering haven.

Walker said between the quality of life that Wilson County affords from the school system to the recreational shared spaces in non-traditional subdivisions, working class families are moving in.

The county commissioner sees this as an opportunity to expand with emerging demographics. “Getting these high-tech jobs isn’t for me, it’s for the younger people,” Walker said.

Joint Economic and Community Development Board Executive Director G.C. Hixson said he was not against Walker’s proposal on its face, but that appealing to tech jobs for relocation to Wilson County was already underway as evidenced by several potential high-tech suitors.

Some of those projects, which to date have not been formally announced, include electric vehicle and lithium ion battery manufacturers, as well as medical supply distributors.

It was decided by the board to table the idea for a possible TechWilson division for at least a month while it reviewed the proposal.

Time to giddy up

Riders from across Tennessee and neighboring Kentucky have descended on the James Ward Ag Center and they aren’t going anywhere until every trophy is handed out.

The four-day state final event, hosted by the Tennessee Saddle Club Association, is a one-stop shop for all the riding activities one could consume. It’s a chance for riders to showcase their horses’ abilities and to have a little fun in the process.

Events are open to people of all ages with categories for six and under, 12 and under, 13-17 year olds, adults, and even a category for 50 years and older.

Multiple riders from Wilson County took home hardware during the first night of events. Lennis Rader rides with the Mt. Juliet Saddle Club and finished sixth place in the Country Pleasure event. In the same event, Jamie Smith of the Wilson County Saddle Club secured fourth place.

Rader explained that each competitor is judged by “how the horse performs as far as changing the gaits at the proper time, and holding the gait.”

According to Rader, “One of the most important things is when you stop, they (the horse) has to be able to step backwards for the judge.”

Rader said his horse was already trained when he got him, but that he continues to ride him all the time. The Wilson County native has been showing horses for 21 years with the MJSC.

For a lot of the riders at the Ag Center on Thursday, it’s not just the culmination of hours of hard work but a lifestyle. Ray Jones works with Lebanon Street Department, but lives in Westmoreland.

Jones said he’s been riding horses “since I was in diapers.”

His horse Betsy is a black Racking Horse, and was fitted with green ribbons for the Style Racking competition. A Racking Horse is a breed derived from the Tennessee Walking Horse, known for a distinctive gait.

The goal is to preserve the breed in a natural state with little or no artificial devices that enhance gait. The horse’s tail is naturally raised without nicking or tail sets.

While he said he would love to win a trophy, it’s mostly about having a good time and enjoying yourself.

With so many categories, if it were at another location, it might be easy to miss a competition, but at the Ag Center, it’s all happening under the same roof.

TSCA President Bill McCormick said of the arena, “It’s always been here. I’ve been riding at this show for 27 years now and it’s always been at this facility.”

McCormick said that before his time, the event was hosted by individual saddle clubs, but it got too big, so they needed a venue that could sustain that capacity. This is his third year as president, but he’s been riding for 27 years, ever since a neighbor who encouraged him to give it a try.

Unlike a lot of events that had to shutter doors last year during the first wave of the pandemic, the TSCA State Show went off without a hitch. The association did require liability waivers to be signed if a contestant or spectator caught COVID at the show, but it was able to be held under otherwise normal circumstances.

“It was quite well attended because other shows did get canceled and people were looking for a place to go,” said McCormick.

McCormick said that last year, the medics “didn’t have anything to do,” a feat he hopes they replicate this year.

About the TSCA

The TSCA was established in 1965 and is made up of over 35 member clubs located in Tennessee and Kentucky.

As a governing body, it oversees the rules, regulations and by-laws. It is run by officers, directors and committees who organize meetings and prepare annually for the State Horse Show held Labor Day weekend of each year in Lebanon.

The club promotes itself as offering something for every equine enthusiast. There are classes for both trotting and non-trotting (gaited) breeds, big and small so even spectating can be exciting.

Hiring slows as delta variant weakens travel, tourism

WASHINGTON — America’s employers added just 235,000 jobs in August, a surprisingly weak gain after two months of robust hiring and the clearest sign to date that the delta variant’s spread has discouraged some people from flying, shopping and eating out.

The August job growth the government reported Friday fell far short of the sizable gains of roughly 1 million in each of the previous two months. The hiring jumps in June and July had followed widespread vaccinations that allowed the economy to fully reopen from pandemic restrictions. Now, with Americans buying fewer plane tickets, reducing hotel stays and filling fewer entertainment venues, some employers in those areas have slowed their hiring.

Still, the number of job openings remains at record levels, with many businesses eager for workers, and hiring is likely to rebound in the coming months. Even last month’s modest job growth was sufficient to lower the unemployment rate to 5.2% from 5.4% in July. With consumers willing to spend and companies trying to hire, the U.S. economy looks healthy.

The details of Friday’s jobs report showed how the delta variant held back job growth last month. The sectors of the economy where hiring was weakest — restaurants, hotels and retailers — were mainly those that require face-to-face contact with the public. More Americans said they were unable to work in August because their employer closed or lost business to the pandemic than said so in July.

Hiring in the category that includes restaurants, bars and hotels sank to zero in August after those sectors had added roughly 400,000 jobs in both June and July. Restaurant dining, after having fully recovered in late June, has declined to about 9% below pre-pandemic levels, according to reservations website OpenTable.

Some live shows, including the remaining concerts on country star Garth Brooks’ tour, have been canceled. Businesses are delaying their returns to offices, threatening the survival of some downtown restaurants, coffee shops and dry cleaners.

“The delta variant has taken a bigger toll on the job market than many of us had hoped,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo. “It’s going to take workers longer to come back to the labor market than we expected.”

As a consequence, many economists now predict that the Federal Reserve won’t make a long-awaited announcement that it will begin dialing back its low-interest rate policies until November or later.

The August jobs report “slams the door” on the prospect of the Fed announcing a pullback when it meets later this month, House said. Fed Chair Jerome Powell made clear last week that the central bank would begin to reverse its ultra-low-rate policies later this year if the economy continued to improve.

A lack of available workers remains a major hurdle to robust hiring. A few months ago, many economists had expected a fading pandemic to encourage more people to resume their job searches. Worries about getting sick on the job would fade, they hoped. And as schools reopened, more parents, particularly women, would return to the workforce.

So far, that hasn’t happened. But the demand for workers remains strong. The job listings website Indeed says the number of available jobs grew in August. And the National Federation for Independent Business said its surveys show that half of small businesses have jobs they cannot fill.

Across the economy, that difficulty is compelling employers to offer higher pay. Average hourly wages rose a robust 4.3% in August compared with a year earlier.

Walmart announced this week that it will hire 20,000 people to expand its supply chain and online shopping operations, including jobs for order fillers, drivers, and managers. Amazon said Wednesday that it is looking to fill 40,000 jobs in the U.S., mostly technology and hourly positions.

And Fidelity Investments said Tuesday that it is adding 9,000 more jobs, including in customer service and IT. In such sectors, where face-to-face contact with the public isn’t generally required, hiring remains strong.

Among the beneficiaries is Hailey Uejo, who began working Aug. 1 as a project manager at VIDSIG, a San Francisco-based company that provides a live video chat platform whereby customers can interact with celebrities and experts. Previously, Uejo, 24, had worked as a special education teacher. But she felt burnt out by online classes.

“COVID gave me the excuse to try something new,” she said.

Jonathan Yarnold, CEO of VIDSIG, said the delta variant hasn’t affected his company’s plans to add 20 to 25 jobs.

Likewise, Sean O’Scannlain, chief executive of Fortune International, which imports, processes and distributes seafood, said his company is on track for record sales and has topped pre-pandemic levels. The delta variant hasn’t slowed demand from the higher-end restaurants and grocery stores he supplies.

Yet O’Scannlain said he’s struggling to fill 42 open jobs for truck drivers, warehouse workers, accountants and sales workers. He said he thinks that a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement, which began in March, discouraged some would-be job seekers.

Other factors, too, O’Scannlain said, have made it harder to hire: Because big companies such as Amazon and Walmart have raised wages, he has had to match their higher pay. Overall, he’s raised pay 10% to 15% from a year ago. And some people fear becoming sick on the job from delta.

“Those fears were easing in the spring as the numbers were coming down,” he said. As infections have spiked, “those concerns have risen again.”

Governors in about 25 states stopped paying the $300-a-week federal jobless benefit in June and July because, they said, the extra money was discouraging recipients from looking for work. Yet the proportion of Americans with jobs or searching for one was flat in August, Friday’s report showed, suggesting that the cutoff has had little impact so far. Some academic research has found that the early cutoffs have led to only a small increase in hiring.

The $300 payment, as well as two federal programs that cover the self-employed and gig workers, and the long-term unemployed, are set to end next week. About 8.9 million people will lose all their unemployment aid as a result.

One of them is Marianne Leblanc. A live-events designer, Leblanc, 58, lives in Las Vegas, where she used to oversee huge corporate displays at conferences such as the Consumer Electronics Show. Once the pandemic hit, all that work dried up.

Leblanc recently accepted a nine-week temporary job that will require her to fly to several cities, many of them with high COVID counts, which she is reluctant to do because she has lupus, which weakens the immune system.

She is also interviewing for a permanent job, but she has seen previous opportunities fall through. She fears losing the home she rents once her jobless aid ends.

“It’s been an emotional roller-coaster for the past year and a half,” Leblanc said, “and it’s just being amplified” by the impending loss of aid.

The hiring slowdown in the U.S. contrasts with an improved picture in Europe, which has passed the U.S. in total vaccine doses and a levelling-off of new infections is helping limit delta’s impact.

Retail and recreation activity in Europe has now exceeded its pre-pandemic level, and European Union officials say they’ve reached their goal of fully vaccinating 70% of adults by summer’s end, a higher proportion than in the U.S. In addition, France, Germany and Italy have restricted the access of unvaccinated people to indoor dining and other activities.

Afghan women demanding rights

KABUL, Afghanistan — A small group of Afghan women protested near the presidential palace in Kabul on Friday, demanding equal rights from the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new rulers work on forming a government and seeking international recognition.

The Taliban captured most of the country in a matter of days last month and celebrated the departure of the last U.S. forces after 20 years of war. Now they face the urgent challenge of governing a war-ravaged country that is heavily reliant on international aid.

The Taliban have promised an inclusive government and a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. But many Afghans, especially women, are deeply skeptical and fear a rollback of rights gained over the last two decades.

The protest in Kabul was the second women’s protest in as many days, with the other held in the western city of Herat. Around 20 women with microphones gathered under the watchful eyes of Taliban gunmen, who allowed the demonstration to proceed.

The women demanded access to education, the right to return to work and a role in governing the country. “Freedom is our motto. It makes us proud,” read one of their signs.

A Taliban fighter ventured into the crowd at one point, but witnesses said he was angry at the bystanders who had stopped to watch the demonstration and not the protesters themselves.

“We are concerned about the issues of human rights in Afghanistan, notably on the rights of women,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday. “It is imperative that women have the right to work, to work in a safe environment, and those are some of the issues that have been brought to the attention of our interlocutors in Kabul and elsewhere.”

The Taliban have said women will be able to continue their education and work outside the home, rights denied to women when the militants were last in power. But the Taliban have also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, without providing specifics.

Interpretations of Islamic law vary widely across the Muslim world, with more moderate strains predominating. The Taliban’s earlier rule was shaped by Afghanistan’s unique tribal traditions, under which women are not to be seen in public. Those customs endure, especially in the countryside, even during 20 years of Western-backed governments.

A potentially more pressing concern for the Taliban is the economy, which is mired in crisis. Civil servants haven’t been paid for months, ATM’s have been shut down and banks are limiting withdrawals to $200 per week, causing large crowds to form outside them. Aid groups have warned of widespread hunger amid a severe drought.

The Taliban said Western Union, which halted service after the militants entered Kabul last month, will resume transfers, which may help Afghans to receive cash from relatives living abroad. But most of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves are held abroad and frozen while Western nations consider how to engage with the Taliban, putting pressure on the local currency.

There was no immediate comment from Western Union on the resumption of service.

Meanwhile fighting has been brutal in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital Kabul, a last holdout against the Taliban sweep. Late on Friday celebratory gunfire erupted in the capital as rumors circulated that the Taliban had captured the valley, which was being defended by former vice president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the British-educated son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed in a suicide bombing just two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in America.

But Afghanistan’s popular TOLO TV carried a message from Saleh who said the fighting had been intense and fighters on both sides had died but he was still in the Panjshir Valley and he would stay to defend it.

The staccato of gunfire throughout the capital lasted nearly 15 minutes prompted the Taliban’s spokesman and head of its cultural and information commission Zabihullah Mujahid to warn his rank and file against wasting their ammunition.

“Avoid aerial firing, instead thank the God,” Mujahid tweeted.

Meanwhile, the Taliban say they want good relations with all countries, even the United States, and have held a string of meetings with foreign envoys in recent days in the Gulf nation of Qatar, where they have long maintained a political office.

Western nations are expected to demand the Taliban live up to their promises to form an inclusive government and prevent Afghanistan from being a haven for terrorist groups. They may also press the Taliban on women’s rights, though that could be a harder sell for the group’s hard-line base, which is steeped in Afghanistan’s deeply conservative, tribal culture.

Ahmadullah Muttaqi, a spokesman for the Taliban’s cultural commission, said a senior official from the United Arab Emirates flew into Kabul’s international airport on Friday to meet with Taliban officials, without naming him. Afghanistan’s TOLO TV reported that the aircraft was also carrying 60 tons of food and medical aid.

Sher Mohammad Stanikzai, a senior Taliban official based in Qatar, recently met with British and German delegations, according to the Taliban, which said another official, Abdul Salam Hanafi, had a phone call with Chinese deputy foreign minister Wu Jianghao.

Most Western embassies were evacuated and shuttered in the days after the Taliban rolled into Kabul on Aug. 15. The Taliban have urged diplomats to return.

Taliban political leaders have gone on TV to say the world has nothing to fear from them. But many Afghans, as well as Western nations that spent two decades fighting the group, remain deeply skeptical.

Tens of thousands of Afghans fled the country after the Taliban takeover in a massive U.S.-led airlift out of Kabul international airport. The scenes of chaos, from Afghans clinging to military aircraft as they took off before falling to their deaths, to a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, marked a bitter end to America’s longest war.

The Taliban assumed control of the airport after the last American forces flew out and are now working to restore operations with technical experts from Qatar and Turkey. The Taliban say they will allow free travel for anyone with proper documents, but it remains to be seen whether any commercial airlines will offer service.

Officials from Pakistan International Airlines have met with Afghanistan’s still-independent civil aviation administration. But Abdullah Hafeez, a spokesman for the airline, said it will take “some time” to clean up the debris and restore normal operations.

“There is still a lot of work to be done before international flights can come into the airport,” he said.

Former Wilson Central quarterback Dylan Carpenter is expected to take the first snap of Cumberland’s season today when the Phoenix face Keiser in West Palm Beach, Fla. Brandon Edmondson, one of several CU signal-callers who saw action last spring, is expected to play today, coach Tim Mathis said.

Phoenix face No. 4 Keiser in season opener (copy)